Macron Tests French Tempers as Cabinet Drags On Into the Weekend

(Bloomberg) -- President Emmanuel Macron is testing French patience.

More than a week has gone by since the resignation of his interior minister, with no sign of a new cabinet team being appointed. The anticipated reshuffle will not now take place until after the president returns on Friday from a planned trip to Armenia, Macron’s office said.

“The President of the Republic wants to take the necessary time, with calm, professionalism and respect, to compose a coherent and quality team to serve the French,” the Elysee Palace said in a statement on Wednesday morning. The president is also taking time to carry out background checks on all prospective candidates, it said.

With a virtual news blackout in place, the past week since Macron’s team sent a cryptic note on the secured messaging service Telegram about the departure of his most senior minister has been filled by speculation, innuendo and misinformation.

Macron Tests French Tempers as Cabinet Drags On Into the Weekend

Macron and Prime Minister Edouard Philippe spent almost two hours deliberating Tuesday morning, after which a statement was issued saying that the reshuffle “will be done without PM Philippe and his government’s resignation.” That suggests a change of faces rather than a root-and-branch overhaul.

“How long will this masquerade go on?” the opposition Republican party’s parliamentary whip, Christian Jacob, demanded of the premier. “The tragic-comedy has been going on for a week now.”

Farmers, Uzbeks

With reporters camped out at the Elysee Palace on Tuesday, Macron met with farmers, the Uzbek president, and with the CEOs of 25 French tech firms before delivering an evening speech in Paris on his vow to “scale up the start-up nation.” It was left to the prime minister to defend the government during the weekly parliament session.

“I can assure you there is no weakness in this government, no impatience,” Philippe told lawmakers. “We are not backing down on any of the commitments taken by the president.”

At stake is Macron’s ability to move beyond months of gaffes and political setbacks that culminated Oct. 2, when the Elysee said that Interior Minister Gerard Collomb had “put himself in a position to have to resign.” Later that night, Collomb, one of Macron’s earliest and most senior political backers, finally terminated his mandate.

While the president could simply replace him, that may not be enough for Macron to jump start his presidency and revive his flagging poll ratings.

Macron Tests French Tempers as Cabinet Drags On Into the Weekend

French media have reported that the cabinet reshuffle could involve five to 10 ministers or junior ministers being replaced or seeing their functions rejigged, with those responsible for culture, agriculture and territorial cohesion the most likely to be replaced.

Others made a public pitch to stay put. Digital Affairs Minister Mounir Mahjoubi said on France Inter radio Tuesday that he “loved” his post and wanted to stay in the job. Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said Sunday that he was “enthusiastic” about working for Macron and wanted to remain in place. Defense Minister Florence Parly took to the airwaves from Chad to defend Macron and France’s actions to fight terrorism.

‘Real Problem’

An Odoxa poll released Monday found that 80 percent consider Macron’s communication in the Collomb case to have been poor; 75 percent said they see the departures of Collomb and Environment Minister Nicolas Hulot, who quit on live radio in August, as a sign of “a real problem” in the way Macron governs.

For Jean Garrigues, a political historian at Orleans University, a cabinet reshuffle is not the most urgent measure required to right the ship.

“What’s needed is a change of presidential style, to make a president with a bit more empathy,” he said on BFM TV.

Satirical newspaper Le Canard Enchaine capture the mood with its cover for Wednesday’s edition: “Macron’s not in any hurry!”

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.